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					                    Sea Bass Fishing
                    Standard Note:   SN/SC/745
                    Last updated:    19 January 2011
                    Author:          Christopher Barclay
                    Section          Science and Environment Section

•    Sea bass is the only species fished at sea both recreationally and commercially.

•    Bass fishing is controversial. Commercial fishermen accuse sport fishermen of taking
     their catches. Sport fishermen claim that far more value is added by sport than by
     commercial fishing. This note explains the position. Another note, Sea Bass Fishing and
     Dolphins, (SN/SC/3191) covers sea bass fishing and dolphin by-catch.

•    An unchanged minimum landing size of 36cm for English waters was agreed in 2007 after
     much consultation. Defra dropped its original plan to increase the size to 40cm and
     ultimately 45cm.

•    There is no quota for bass in UK waters and the stock has not been considered to be at
     risk of overfishing. However, concerns were raised in 2009.


1      The regulation of bass fishing                                                        2 

2      The adjournment debate, September 2003                                                2 

3      Sourcing from hand-line fishery                                                       4 

4      The Bass Management Plan                                                              4 

5      Minimum landing size unchanged after much consultation 2007                           5 

6      Rejection of plan to licence recreational sea angling                                 6 

7      Government action through 2008                                                        7 

8      Bass fishermen worried about the stock, 2009                                          8 

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1       The regulation of bass fishing
There has been particular interest in bass, because they are fished by both sport fisherman
and commercial fishermen.

There is no quota for bass, so that it can be fished by commercial fishing boats, by
commercial rod and line fishing and by anglers. There are some protective measures for
bass, particularly for nursery areas. There is also a minimum landing size, laid down at EU
level. Defra has also persuaded supermarkets selling Mediterranean farmed bass to label it
as such, so as to avoid undersized bass being caught and passed off as farmed bass.

The bass spends its whole life in the sea, which is why MAFF/Defra has not treated it in the
same way as trout or salmon. Anglers complain that their sport brings in much more money
than commercial fishing. Commercial fishermen would not consider the figures to be
comparable, and sometimes complain that sport fishermen are taking their livelihood.

A Defra document in 2006 explained the regulatory system:

        Fishing effort on bass is not subject to quota limits; sustainability of the stock is
        controlled through a range of measures introduced in 1990 to protect juvenile bass and
        raise the age at first capture from 3-5 to 5-6 years. These measures included
        increasing the MLS [minimum landing size] from 32cm to 36cm, banning enmeshing
        nets with a mesh size of between 65 and 89 mm, and banning fishing from boats for
        bass in 34 areas where undersized fish are particularly vulnerable to capture (the “bass
        nursery areas”). A licence condition for UK vessels was also introduced in 2000 to limit
        landings of bass to no more than either 5 tonnes per week or 15 tonnes per month per
        vessel. In Cornwall, the MLS set by the Cornwall Sea Fisheries Committee (SFC),
        under local byelaws, is 37.5cm. 1

2       The adjournment debate, September 2003
Robert Key stressed the economic role of leisure fishing, including 375,000 bass anglers,
and called for better treatment relative to commercial fishing:

        Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): … A decade ago, MAFF's Directorate of Fisheries
        Research at Lowestoft and Portsmouth university's centre for economics and
        management of aquatic resources published a report that found that sales of
        commercially caught bass were worth about £4 million, while 361,000 bass anglers
        spent £18 million on their activities. In 2000, the National Assembly for Wales
        commissioned a study that found that sea angling made an economic contribution to
        coastal Wales of £28 million, whereas commercial inshore fishing netted £9 million and
        offshore commercial fishing yielded just £12 million.

        The study suggested that sea angling had huge potential for growth and that modest,
        low-risk public investment would stimulate local economies, underpin coastal
        environmental programmes and encourage conservation of fish stocks. However, the
        study warned that poor recognition of the economic significance of recreational sea
        angling resulted in little Government support. It also warned that heavy commercial
        fishing of some species, especially illegal netting for bass, was undermining the
        resource base for recreational anglers.

    Defra, Bass measures: full Regulatory Impact Assessment, 2006

        Last year, an independent report commissioned by the Countryside Council for Wales
        and English Nature put the value of commercial landings in England and Wales at £35
        million, while recreational angling generated £140 million for the coastal economy.

        Anglers have done their best to make their voice heard during the consultation on the
        Government's welcome review of the common fisheries policy. I bring their concerns to
        Parliament as part of that process. I support the view that certain of our fish stocks
        should be managed principally for recreational sea angling, so please will the
        Government accord sports fish status to certain species, including bass? As a matter
        of priority, will the Government intervene to tackle illegal and damaging inshore gill-

        The sea angling sector is seeking an equal partnership with the commercial sector and
        inshore fisheries management and regulation to provide taxpayers who fund sea
        fisheries committees and the Environment Agency with a sustainable and best value
        return from commonly owned resources. The sea angling community is concerned
        that committees and groups set up by the Government are overwhelmingly biased at
        present towards the commercial sector. That case was strongly made by the National
        Federation of Sea Anglers to the Minister in connection with the strategy unit's current
        review of British fisheries. I therefore very much hope that when considering the future
        protection of our marine resources and sustainable harvesting of fish the Government
        will give consideration to the recreational sector proportionate to the support afforded
        to the commercial fishing sector.

The Minister, Ben Bradshaw, accepted the figures:

        The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural
        Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): …I welcome the fact that the reformed CFP [Common
        Fisheries Policy] is more inclusive than before, as it will need to be to ensure
        sustainable fisheries management. Although much of the CFP is specifically directed at
        the commercial fishing sector, a number of useful gains to recreational sea angling
        came out of last December's review. Those are the retention of the UK's 12-mile limit;
        provision for member states to introduce conservation measures within their 12-mile
        limit, provided such measures are not discriminatory; provision for the establishment of
        regional advisory councils; and Community action to reduce discards…

        Anglers are now represented by ministerial appointees to most sea fisheries
        committees in England and Wales, and their local issues can be fully considered. My
        Department is considering the terms of reference for a study of fisheries enforcement
        issues. That could have a far-reaching impact on sea fisheries committees, and we
        shall ensure that the voice of recreational fishermen is heard. Sea anglers' interests will
        also be taken into account in the review of inshore fisheries management.

        The No. 10 strategy unit has been tasked with developing a strategy for a sustainable
        fishing industry in the UK, of which I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware. Sea
        anglers' representatives have been closely and productively involved with that project,
        and the National Federation of Sea Anglers is a member of the strategy unit
        stakeholder advisory group.

        The establishment of regional advisory councils [RACs] under the reformed common
        fisheries policy was intended to increase the participation of those affected by the CFP
        to secure better and more regionally focused fisheries management. There will
        undoubtedly be areas of an RAC's work in which sea anglers can make a valuable
        contribution, and I would encourage them to become involved where they can. 2

    HC Deb 8 September 2003 cc143-148

3        Sourcing from hand-line fishery
The following PQ in October 2004 described Defra’s sourcing policy:

         Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if
         she will make it her Department's catering policy to source sea bass from hand line
         fisheries; and if she will make a statement.

         Mr. Bradshaw: Defra and its catering service providers are working together to
         increase the consumption of food that has been produced in ways that help sustain
         productivity and reduce adverse impacts on the environment. Defra supports the
         sourcing of sea bass from responsibly managed fisheries. Handlining is a relatively low
         impact method of fishing and so can help fisheries to remain sustainable. Advice from
         the international Council for the Exploration of the Seas on sea bass has been that the
         level of exploitation of the stock appeared to be sustainable. New advice is due shortly
         which we will be considering carefully with a view to ensuring that the stock remains
         sustainably exploited. There are also currently no restrictions at a UK or Community
         level on the method of fishing that can be used to target bass.

         In these circumstances I consider it would be inappropriate to encourage Defra's
         caterers to restrict the source of bass they purchase to hand line fisheries only.

4        The Bass Management Plan
Labour’s Charter for Angling (2005) supported the Bass Management Plan:

         Bass Management Plan
         Labour recognises that there are some species of sea fish which could return Best
         Value for the UK, and the overall marine environment, if designated and managed
         primarily as recreational species. Bass are a prime example of this and consideration
         should be given to their designation as a Recreational Species, managed primarily for
         the development of Recreational Sea Angling, in accordance with proposals put
         forward in the Bass Management Plan prepared by the Bass Anglers Sportfishing

         The Bass Management plan has suggested:
         1. Bass Commercial Licences - for the retention of bass.
         2. Bass Carcass Tags - to cap effort, increase traceability and improve enforcement.
         3. Bass Bag Limits - to limit the retention of bass by unlicensed fishermen and anglers
         and to aid detection and enforcement of illegal fishing.
         4. Closed Season - to protect spawning bass when they are vulnerable.
         5. Increases in Minimum Landing Size - to strengthen the brood stock.
         6. Nursery Area additional measures and enforcement - to protect juveniles.
         7. Near-Shore Netting Restrictions - to protect our fragile coastal zones.

         As well as delivering an angling product that would provide anglers with more and
         bigger fish, these measures will also allow the development of a sustainable inshore
         fishery concentrated on producing a high quality, high value product. Labour
         welcomes the publication of the Bass Management Plan and following discussion with
         the authors has agreed to a programme of implementation. We have already banned
         Bass Pair Trawling in inshore waters to help preserve bass stocks and prevent by-
         catches of dolphins and porpoises. 4

    HC Deb 4 October 2004 c1943W
    Martin Salter, Labour’s Charter for Angling, 2005

5       Minimum landing size unchanged after much consultation 2007
After a consultation exercise, Defra announced an increase in the minimum landing size for
bass from 36cm:

        From April 6, 2007, fishermen and anglers will not be allowed to land bass any smaller
        than 40cm Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw announced today. The current limit is 36

        Mr Bradshaw said: "…In the future, I intend to increase the landing size further to
        45cm, but subject to the results of a review, in 2010, of the effectiveness of the
        measures I have announced today." 5

Wales decided on a different minimum landing size – 37.5cm. 6

However, the Labour Government reconsidered the decision after a meeting with the
National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO). On 25 October 2007 the Labour
Government announced that the minimum landing size for bass in English waters would
remain at 36cm. 7 The change of plan was debated in November 2007. Martin Salter
criticised the Minister’s decision:

        His announcement of 25 October on retaining the minimum landing size for bass at 36
        cm rather than increasing it to 40 cm and then to 45 cm by 2010, as recommended by
        the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science just two years ago,
        flies in the face of scientific evidence and has been greeted with understandable anger
        and dismay by hundreds of thousands of sea anglers, as well as by conservationists.
        He himself admitted that his decision was based on looking after the short-term
        interests of the inshore fleet rather than the long-term interests of the species and the
        environment. I want to tease out those points. 8

The Minister replied:

        Before making this decision, I was aware that the consultation on the issue had
        generated some 2,800 responses…[M]y approach was to ensure that my decision took
        proper account of the science and all the other evidence. I was also clear that I would
        not reach a decision until both parties had had a chance to put their case to me.

        The meeting that I convened at the beginning of October gave me the opportunity to
        hear the views of those who have been closely involved with the debate… This advice
        from CEFAS scientists has been that the bass stock appears to be fished sustainably
        and that a succession of successful year classes, together with a suite of effective
        management measures, has resulted in a doubling of bass stocks since the mid-

        That view is endorsed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea—
        ICES—whose report I have here. ICES advised the European Commission in 2004
        that bass stocks around the UK coast appeared to be fished sustainably. For example,
        it reported:

             “The prognosis for sea bass stocks in the English that fishing
             mortality levels are sustainable...spawning stock biomass levels are as high or
             higher than they have been over the previous 20 years and that strong year

    Defra Press Release, Bass landing size increase to improve fish stocks, 10 August 2006
    HC Deb 14 December 2006 c1077
    Defra Press release, No change to Sea Bass landing size, 25 October 2007
    HC Deb 22 November 2007 c1428

             classes continued to be sufficiently frequent to ensure that recruitment
             maintains both yields and the stock.”

         The same report also noted that the package of bass conservation measures
         introduced in the UK in the 1990s—including the creation of 37 key bass nursery
         areas, which we closed to directed fishing for bass—had met their objectives.

         The science—from ICES in 2004 and our own scientific advice—has remained
         consistent since the consultation. However, the circumstances in which I am making
         my decision have changed. My hon. Friend was right: I am particularly concerned
         about the impacts on the under-10m fleet in the short to medium term. It is difficult to
         quantify the impact on the profitability of individual vessels, but it is clear that bass
         between 36 cm and 40 cm makes up an important share of the catch for these vessels.

         Our regulatory impact assessment identified that, with an increase to 40 cm, the costs
         to the industry would have been around £1.4 million in the first year, with reduced
         landings for three to four years, and subsequently recovering to the levels that
         pertained before the increase. This sector of the fleet has faced a number of additional
         pressures this year in relation to the availability of quota species. Inshore netters
         fishing for sole, cod and plaice have been particularly affected in 2007, and, as a non-
         quota and plentiful species, bass is an important displacement stock for those

         I am also concerned about the effects of any increased minimum landing size on
         discards of bass—when fish are thrown back into the sea, often dead. That is a key
         issue for fishermen and for managers, and the European Commission has recently
         produced proposals to reduce the number of discards in key fisheries. The largest
         discard impact would have been on trawlers in the eastern English channel. At 40 cm,
         an estimated 55 tonnes of bass would have been discarded—and would probably have
         died—from UK inshore trawlers each year out of an average trawl catch of around 230

         Finally, when I reached my decision I bore it in mind that we now had a clear indication
         that other member states and the Commission would not support an increased MLS,
         as we had originally hoped. 9

6        Rejection of plan to licence recreational sea angling
On 6 December 2007, Defra published a consultation paper on a recreational sea angling
strategy for England. 10 It said that a licence for recreational sea angling will be considered:

         Recreational Sea Angling Licence

         5.4 All fisheries stakeholders have a responsibility to share the cost of science and
         fisheries management. A combined mechanism that would raise money for the benefit
         of sea anglers, provide an effective communication tool, gather information to better
         understand anglers’ needs, promote fuller participation in management fora, and
         enable effective monitoring and enforcement would underpin other elements of the
         RSA Strategy. A sea angling licence (operating in a similar way to the freshwater
         angling licence) could meet these needs. The costs and benefits must be transparent,
         justifiable and clearly understood. Additional revenue would need to be returned to the

     HC Deb 23 November 2007 cc1431-3
     Defra, Consultation on a Recreational Sea Angling Strategy for England, December 2007

         angling sector through a range of projects and programmes that would enhance the
         angling experience. 11

In March 2008, the Labour Government announced that it would not go ahead with the

         Martin Salter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
         whether he plans to proceed with the introduction of a sea angling licence; and if he
         will make a statement.

         Jonathan Shaw: I met sea angling representatives at the Angling summit on 18
         February where a number of concerns were raised with me regarding the introduction
         of a chargeable licence for sea angling. I have also discussed the issue direct with
         anglers around the coast, as have my officials. In view of the concerns expressed,
         including the extent to which sea anglers expected to see benefits from the charge, I
         have decided not to proceed with enabling powers in the Marine Bill to introduce a sea
         angling licence.

         I will, none the less, continue with a package of other measures that aim to provide
         benefits for anglers, including a review of nursery areas for the protection of bass
         stocks and of inshore netting, and a pilot study on area-based restrictions to support
         sea angling. I have also recently announced measures to increase protection of tope, a
         key species for anglers.

         I will reconsider the arguments for introducing a recreational sea angling licence at
         some stage in the future in the light of progress on the aforementioned measures. 12

7        Government action through 2008
Two PQs in February 2008 updated the position:

         Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
         what steps he is taking to support inshore recreational bass fishing.

         Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 25 February 2008]: Scientific advice from the
         International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in 2004, and subsequent advice to
         DEFRA from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, suggests
         that the bass stock is fished sustainably. With a view to providing additional protection
         for stocks of bass, I announced last year a review of bass nursery areas and inshore
         netting restrictions, for the benefit of both inshore recreational and commercial bass
         fishing. I am also currently consulting on a draft recreational sea angling strategy which
         considers a package of measures for the development of recreational sea fishing. The
         consultation closes on 31 March.

         Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
         what assessment he has made of the (a) state of the inshore bass fishing industry and
         (b) availability of large mature adult bass.

         Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 25 February 2008]: The most recent advice on bass
         from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea was produced in 2004.
         This was based on analytical assessments of UK inshore bass stocks and concluded
         that bass stocks appear to be fished sustainably. Updated assessments have been
         carried out on behalf of DEFRA by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and
         Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in 2006 and 2008. These confirm the earlier

     Defra, Consultation on a Recreational Sea Angling Strategy for England, December 2007 pp13-14
     HC Deb 18 March 2008 c944W

         assessment and indicate that levels of bass landings by the commercial fishing
         industry (including the inshore sector) reflect the increase in stock abundance since the
         mid 1990s.

         Bass are fully mature at eight years and older. Although stock assessments by CEFAS
         indicate that adult bass are more abundant than historically, large adult bass tend to be
         less available inshore, where smaller younger bass are more prevalent. 13

A PQ in November 2008 updated the position on sustainability of the bass fishery:

         Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural
         Affairs (1) if he will review the decision not to increase the minimum landing size of
         bass; and if he will make a statement;

         (2) what consideration he has given to the introduction of a system of carcass tagging
         for bass;

         (3) whether he intends implementing further measures to develop the recreational bass

         Huw Irranca-Davies: Scientific advice from the International Council for the
         Exploration of the Sea in 2004, and subsequent advice to DEFRA from the Centre for
         Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, suggests that the bass stock is
         fished sustainably. In addition to being a prime sports fish for the sea angling sector,
         bass is a particularly important stock for the inshore fishing fleet. Given the pressures
         faced by this fleet and the relatively healthy state of the stock, I have no plans to
         increase the minimum landing size of bass. For the same reasons, I currently have no
         plans to introduce a system of carcass tagging as a means of controlling exploitation of
         the bass stock.

         However, we announced last year a package of new measures that will provide
         increased protection for stocks of bass and more widely benefits for anglers. This
         includes a review of inshore netting restrictions and of 30 restricted areas around the
         English coast for the protection of juvenile bass. This may result in new protected
         areas, increased restrictions or extensions to current areas around the coast. We will
         consult on any proposals relating to these restricted areas in the new year. In addition,
         we are also funding research exploring the use of restricted areas to benefit
         recreational bass anglers.

         Alongside this work, we are continuing to monitor the state of the bass stock and I do
         not rule out returning to an increase in the minimum landing size of bass once the
         effectiveness of these new measures has been assessed. 14

8        Bass fishermen worried about the stock, 2009
The BASS Anglers Sportfishing Society reported alarm about the sustainability of stock in

         UK anglers will soon start to see a disastrous decline in both the number and size of
         bass available in the important and valuable Recreational Fishery. That is the
         conclusion from studies that show an alarming reduction in the number of juvenile fish
         coming into Southern nursery areas indicating a collapse in recruitment in recent

     HC Deb 27 February 2008 cc1621-2W
     HC Deb 24 November 2008 cc857-8W

         And if that isn't bad enough, this harsh winter could very well have wiped out most of
         the young fish expected to have recently entered the nursery areas

         "Typically young bass will spend four or five years growing in protected shallow inshore
         areas" said John Leballeur, Chairman of the BASS Restoration Project team. "And it's
         not until those fish leave the nursery areas and spread out around the coast that
         anglers and fishermen will notice that there are far fewer young fish joining the fishery
         to replace those now being taken as adults in the commercial fishery." (...)

         BASS are calling on DEFRA to take urgent action to address the problems of
         overexploitation of bass stocks and to reverse this alarming decline now, not when
         their failure to do so becomes obvious to all. 15

     Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society, European Bass Stocks Under Threat, 17 February 2009


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